So let's get down to business, shall we?
Question: How can we incentivize the creation of transportation infrastructure in developing economies so as to connect the world's most isolated producers to larger markets?
Answer: Through the provision of renewable energy, which helps a town develop itself i.e. cottage industries, micro-businesses, online communications via computers, so as to become such an attractive market that governments and businesses would be crazy not to connect it to the rest of the producing and consuming world.
Take Lumeter and our recently completed pilot with WindAid. Right now there are four families using our meter and enjoying wind energy in the small fishing village of Playa Blanca, whose main access road is a rock-strewn nightmare for any suspension and set of tires. The nearest town is a 30 minute drive away The families live off the sea, selling shrimp, scallops and fish to larger companies whose boats barely enter Playa Blanca’s tiny bay to make their purchases on the rolling waves. Playa Blanca has been trying to get energy for at least five years. Nonprofits have started projects, a national oil company has offered to donate solar panels, and the government has promised and then retracted financial support for wind energy saying that three lightbulbs in each house is just not enough to warrant their time and money. (Are you kidding me!?) So they’re prepared to electrify their village themselves, and it is my hope that Lumeter and WindAid make this a reality.
So just go with me here...
Lumeter’s technology has been shown to work, and now four houses prepay for their energy. After Lumeter and our cell phone agent network partner, Cell Power Peru, receive our commission, WindAid takes a percentage (agreed to by them and the community) that goes towards repaying the cost of the system. The rest (about 70% of each payment) is deposited into a community fund. This community fund pays for more turbines and more meters until the entire village is lit. What exactly can energy do for a town?
- Provide more time for businesses to run,
- create opportunities for completely new businesses to pop up and operate at night,
- for refrigeration and cold supply chain operations,
- improve healthcare services,
- provide better light by which to cook and study,
- and facilitate social activities such as evening parties, TV watching and dances.
The town is hopping and outside businesses start noticing the ridiculous costs they are paying to ship their items into a village whose consumption has just gone up enormously. Perhaps this gets them thinking about playing a role in improving the roads to and from the town. This business does not necessarily have to pay to build the road, but perhaps they put a bee in the government’s bonnet to finally put up the funds. As an incentive, the government could consider this town as untapped tax revenue.
So what happens now? The government BUILDS THE ROAD!!! HALLELUJAH!
In short, when governments fail to provide infrastructure, startups like WindAid and Lumeter are helping shift the balance of power into the hands of isolated townspeople, who through our system, can affordably and steadily electrify their homes, schools, clinics and businesses and create a healthier economy for themselves. This economy extends beyond the town’s borders and demands attention and the provision of basic public services including infrastructure construction by local government. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but lasting social change never has.
And that, in my opinion, is why renewable energy in rural areas is so damn important:)